Don Richardson wrote a book that I encourage everyone to read. The title is Peace Child1 and is the story of his missionary labors among a tribe in Papua New Guinea.
When Richardson had finally learned their language, there came a day when he had opportunity to tell them the Gospel. He started with Christ’s miraculous birth, His life and ministry, and then proceeded to the end of Jesus’ time on earth.
He set the stage talking about how Jesus made His final journey to Jerusalem, the incredible reception of the people on Palm Sunday, then the treachery of Judas who worked behind the scenes to betray Jesus to death. To his amazement, when he finished telling them about the traitor, the people showed complete delight in Judas. Richardson was appalled at their reaction.
He discovered that the highest virtue in their culture was deceit—and Judas was the greatest example of deceit about which they had heard. Here was a man who successfully betrayed to the death a great and good man, thus Judas became their instant hero. It was obvious to Richardson that he had his work cut out for him to evangelize this tribe. You need to read the book to discover the beginning and end of this incredible and true missionary story.
Judas was a common first century name. In fact, there are eight mentioned in the New Testament:
(1) Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus and one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:4);
(2) Judas the son of James, and one of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:16);
(3) Judas, a brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55);
(4) Judas, Paul’s host in Damascus (Acts 9:11);
(5) Judas, called Barsabbas, a leading Christian in Jerusalem and a companion of Paul (Acts 15:22);
(6) Judas, a revolutionary leader (Acts 5:37);
(7) Judah, an otherwise unknown person in the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:30);
(8) And Judah, a son of Jacob in the genealogy of Jesus and an ancestor of an Israelite tribe (Matthew 1:2; Revelation 7:5)—’Judas’ or ‘Judah.’2
Observe a verse in Luke 6 regarding the first Judas, who is the subject of this study: “Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor” (Luke 6:16b). In what follows we will provide a panorama of the career of the Bible’s most notorious man. However, do not turn the page to another article yet. There is, what I will call, considerable “backdoor encouragement” from the story of Judas.
The New Testament does not reveal much about Judas’ family and the environment in which he grew up. His surname was “Iscariot” ( jIskariwvq = t/w”riq] yai = man of Karioth). Most scholars understand it to refer to the place of his origin, from Kerioth, in southern Judaea (Matthew 10:4; 26:14; John 6:71; 12:4; 13:2,26; 14:22).2 The best estimation today would be to identify Kerioth with Kerioth-hezron (Joshua 15:25), which is about 15 miles south of Hebron. Judas was, then, the only apostle from Judea; the rest were from Galilee. All we know of his family is that his father’s name was Simon (John 6:71).
Luke 6:16 says Judas “became a traitor,” denoting a double-crosser, or betrayer. The New Testament uses the term “traitor” of Judas and of evil people in the End Times (2 Timothy 3:4). The term “to betray” (prodivdwmi) literally means “to give over,” and the New Testament uses it several ways including “to deliver over treacherously by way of betrayal” (Matthew 17:22; 26:16; John 6:64). The noun form, prodovth”, deriving from prodivdwmi, “to betray,” does not occur in the New Testament, and speaks of one who delivers a person without justification into the control of another.
Son of Perdition (John 17:12)
As terrible as “traitor” is, that title pales into insignificance compared to this one. To be the “son of perdition” denotes that Judas is a man identified with eternal destruction, or whose destiny is the Lake of Fire. “Son of perdition” is a predictive designation.
Furthermore, Acts 1:25 says that Judas went “to his own place,” the thought being the place of his own choosing. Accordingly, it is not that Judas was foreordained from eternity past to go to hell, without opportunity to be saved. Instead, he chose to reject Jesus Christ and will suffer the consequences of any person who rejects the Savior.
[Jesus] called His disciples to Him; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles . . . and Judas Iscariot, who also became a traitor (Luke 6:16).
According to Mark 3:19, after Jesus selected the 12 “they went into a house.” This is probably the same house mentioned in Mark 2:1 in Capernaum, quite possibly Peter’s home. As Mark 3:20 continues, we see that such a large multitude gathered together in the house, “they could not so much as eat bread.” Being involved in an exploding ministry, Jesus and His disciples found frequently that it was a challenge to find time to eat (cp. 6:31b).
When you commit yourself to ministry, giving your time, energy, and best efforts to the Lord’s work, others may view you with raised eyebrows. In fact, Jesus’ family thought He was out of His mind and tried to seize Him (Mark 3:21).
When his relatives beard that His ceaseless ministry worked against what they considered proper care of Himself, they came (no doubt from Nazareth) “to lay hold of Him,” a term used for making an arrest (Mark 6:17; 12:12; 14:1, 44, 46, 51).
Why apprehend the Lord? “For” (yap) they thought that he was out of His mind (Mark 3:21b), that is “a mentally unbalanced religious fanatic (cf. Acts 26:24; 2 Corinthians 5:13).”3
So, what did Judas experience as soon as Jesus selected him? (1) Selection into the unique circle of the “12,” becoming an apostle; (2) he observed great crowds flocking to Jesus; and (3) he saw Christ’s own family thinking Him crazy. Nevertheless, Judas was no fool. He observed that Jesus had extraordinary charisma and attracted large crowds, which meant potential political power, influence, and wealth. Judas wanted in on the action. Linking with Jesus seemed to be a fast track to success.
We might have supposed that Matthew would handle the money needed to sustain the Lord’s ministry because he had been a tax collector and well acquainted with money matters. Judas, however, was the treasurer of the Lord’s group of apostles indicating that he was no imbecile (John 12:5-6; 13:29). He knew the ins-and-outs of collecting, managing, and spending money better than the others did, including Matthew. We will see what kind of treasurer he was next.
In the village of Bethany six days before the Lord’s final Passover, where Lazarus had been raised from the dead (John 12:1), Martha served supper with Lazarus at the table (12:2), but Mary anointed Christ’s feet with expensive “oil of spikenard,” “wiping His feet with her hair” (12:3). It was a wonderful display of love, gratitude, and worship.
Then Judas asked
Why was this fragrant oil not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it (John 12:4-6).
- Character trait #1: He did not care about the poor. He was a hard-hearted man, too concerned with feathering his own nest while others, less fortunate, suffered around him.
- Character trait #2: He was a thief, pilfering funds from the Lord’s money box, which exposes that Judas was full of avarice, or greed.
Accordingly, Judas was not in tune with Jesus, rejecting the Lord’s message. To the poor, Jesus preached the gospel (Luke 7:22). And for the needy, Jesus taught that we should go out of our way to help them so far as we are able (parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:29-37). Judas did not welcome that message, nor did he want to help the needy. The man was not regenerated for in a believer God works to will and to do of His good pleasure, which includes ministering to those with pressing needs (cp. Philippians 2:13 with Titus 3:14). Of course, carnality can quench this work of the Spirit in believers also.
Observe the opposite attitude of Paul, a man who was in tune with the Lord (Galatians 2:10; cp. 6:10).
One commentary says this about Judas:
The comment of the Evangelist [that Judas was a thief] is intended to stress the avarice of Judas, who saw in the price of the ointment nothing of the beautiful deed which Jesus praised (Mark 14:6) but only a means by which the apostolic fund would be increased, and thereby his own pocket lined. And even this motive was cloaked under a specious plea that the money could be given away to relieve the poor. Thus to covetousness there is added the trait of deceit.4
Commentators have suggested many possibilities to explain Judas’ character:
Love of money; jealousy of the other disciples; fear of the inevitable outcome of the Master’s ministry which made him turn state’s evidence in order to save his own skin; an enthusiastic intention to force Christ’s hand and make him declare himself as Messiah a bitter, revengeful spirit which arose when his worldly hopes were crushed and this disappointment turned to spite and spite became hate-all these motives have been suggested.5
What is clear is that Judas was a self-serving thief. who followed Jesus not because his inner man had converted to Him, but because he hoped for personal gain by the relationship.
Jesus did not permit Judas’ criticism of Mary’s generous worship to go unchallenged. He said “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial” (John 12:7). In other words, mind your own business and let her worship Me as she wants; it is a straightforward rebuke.
King David was the first to predict that someone would betray the Messiah:
Even My own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate My bread, Has lifted up his heel against Me (Psalm 41:9).
Jesus quoted this verse of Himself at the Last Passover (John 13:18). Shortly after the Transfiguration, while they were in Galilee, Christ predicted:
The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hand of men and they will kill him, and on the third day He will be raised up And they were exceedingly sorrowful (Matthew 17:22 23).
On His way to Jerusalem, the Lord repeats his prediction:
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again (Matthew 20:18-19).
Thus those who had eyes to see, and ears to hear, should not have been shocked that one of His inner circle (“familiar friend”) would betray Him to the religious leaders.
Judas Betrays the Lord Jesus
The trigger event
What finally motivated Judas to betray the Lord? The setting is the anointing of Jesus in Bethany. The trigger was the rebuke that Jesus gave Judas. Therefore, being stung by the Lord’s rebuke, and becoming increasingly disenchanted because Jesus’ messianic prospects seemed to be dimming, Judas decided to cut his losses.
Judas contacts the religious leaders to make a deal
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me If I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him (Matthew 26:14-16).
“Then” denotes after Mary anointed Jesus in Bethany with costly fragrant oil. Moreover, the disciples (plural) were indignant, saying it was a waste and should have been given to the poor, and Jesus rebuked them (26:6-13).
Though all of the disciples were indignant and complained, it was particularly Judas who asked, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor” (John 12:4)?
The role of the devil
Jesus knew that ultimately His battle was with the evil one. On an occasion well before His final trip to Jerusalem, He implied that the devil would be involved.
Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil (ei|” diavbolo” ejstin)?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve (John 6:67-71).
When Jesus says, “one of you is a devil,” it reveals His omniscience (cp. 1:47; 2:24-25; 6:15, 61). He knew that the devil would possess Judas and use the traitor as a puppet to accomplish satanic objectives.
And sure enough, on Tuesday night following a dinner party at Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ home in Bethany-where Jesus rebuked his disciples and particularly Judas-the traitor rejected the Lord one time too many. The devil then possessed him the first of two times this final week of Jesus’ life.
Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude (Luke 22:3-6).
The Night Judas Betrayed the Lord
The gospels do not state why Judas betrayed Jesus. Yet, we may infer at least two reasons:
- Judas did it after becoming convinced that Jesus was going to die and not reign as King (Mark 14:3-11). This dashed Judas’ hopes for political power and influence.
- Judas did it for money (Matthew 26:14-16). Thus, his expectation of financial wealth no longer existed, so he bargained for what he could receive from the religious leaders (30 pieces of silver).
Judas thought, “What’s the use of continuing to follow Jesus when the whole world is turning against Him and the governmental authorities may swallow me up with Him?”
Now the night of Christ’s betrayal began with the Passover feast and Judas apparently was still smarting from Jesus’ rebuke. Judas sat at the table seething and frustrated about how things looked to be coming down. At the same time, the religious leaders were meeting to discuss how they could arrest Jesus and put Him to death, but the multitudes intimidated them. Thus, they needed and discussed a private way to apprehend the Lord (Mark 14:1-2).
Count on it, Satan’s demons attended that meeting also. Once they knew of the religious leaders’ desire, they beat a path to Satan with the news. The devil had stepped out of Judas’ life for a short time. Satan then hatched a plan and imparted it to Judas’ soul while he sat at the Passover table with Jesus.
And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him (John 13:2).
This Satan apparently did without possessing Judas because it is not until after Jesus gives bread to him that Satan re-enters Judas.
As the Last Supper continues, Jesus proceeds to train His apostles, giving them a huge lesson in humility, servanthood, and forgiveness, which He illustrates by washing their feet (John 13:3-20).
When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me” (John 13:21).
In John 13:22-25, the Lord’s announcement of betrayal, during the solemn Passover occasion, bewilders the apostles. Thus, Peter gets John to ask Jesus who the traitor is.
Jesus answered, It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it. And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, What you do, do quickly (John 13:26-27).
This is the second time during the final week that Satan possesses Judas. Consequently, in John 13:31, Judas departs the Upper Room where the Lord and apostles were eating the Last Supper.
Now as we compare the other Gospel accounts, we see the devil next motivate Judas to tell the religious leaders that he will find a way to betray Jesus. His plan would avoid confrontation with the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 22:6). The religious leaders promptly paid Judas for his treacherous scheme (Mark 14:10-11).
Judas figured that the Garden of Gethsemane would be an ideal place to arrest Jesus because it was outside the city’s eastern wall and away from the crowds. Satan, who anticipated the Lord’s movements, had put this plan into Judas’ head.
The traitor notified the religious leaders that he would identify Jesus with a “kiss.” Why a kiss? Because it would be nighttime and not immediately apparent to the soldiers who Christ was among his disciples!
Once the religious leaders called together the Roman soldiers (a military unit, or cohort, of 600), they tagged along themselves, and Judas led them to the place in the Garden where Jesus prayed. For this “leadership,” Judas became known as “a guide to those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16).
In the Garden of Gethsemane
And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Then Judas, hawing received a detachment of troops and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, Came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore. knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward rind said to them, Whom are you seeking? They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, l am ‘He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them (John 18:5-6).
This treacherous act by Judas became embedded in the minds of the apostles, so much so that Paul, when explaining the communion service says:
I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread (1 Corinthians 11:23).
The morning of the day of Christ’s crucifixion
Seeing that Christ was condemned to death, Judas was remorseful, admitted he betrayed innocent blood, threw the 30 pieces of silver (about $220.00) the leaders paid him into the temple, then hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5).
The religious leaders, ever scrupulous of keeping the Law (at least the parts they liked!), did not take back the blood money, but instead purchased from a local pottery maker a field in which to bury strangers. It was renamed “the field of Blood” (Matthew 27:6-8), which fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy (Zechariah 11:13).
Judas’ suicide: A mystery explained
Matthew says that Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). “This establishes the fact that Judas fastened a noose around his neck and jumped from the branch to which the other end of the rope was attached.”6
In addition, Acts 1:18 reveals that “falling headlong, [Judas] burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out”—a considerably more dramatic picture than Matthew gives. It is terrible enough to commit suicide, but to take a fall, have your body burst open, and your inner parts gush out, is horrendous to say the least.
The question is: Do we have a contradiction in the Bible, or is it possible to harmonize Matthew and Luke? It is possible to harmonize:7
- The limb from which Judas hung was over a precipice, that is, the valley of Hinnom. In fact, to this day there are many dry trees on the brink of this canyon near the traditional site of Judas’ suicide. Thus, it could be that the weight of his body on a dry and dead limb broke the limb causing his body to plummet into the canyon and burst open.
- Or, perhaps the rock shattering earthquake that ripped through Jerusalem at the moment Jesus “yielded up His spirit” caused the limb to break and plunged the swollen, three day old corpse into the canyon splitting it open (cp. Matthew 27:51).
- Or, even a strong gust of wind, funneled through the canyon, could have caused the limb to break.
Whatever, there is no contradiction in God’s Word; a contradiction here is only in the minds of those who want a discrepancy. The ultimate tragic end of the “son of perdition”—an end immeasurably more dreadful than his burst open body—is that he went to Hades, to await the second resurrection and judgment at the Great White Throne, then an eternity in Hell.
Jesus had said at the Last Supper:
Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born (Matthew 27:24).
Lesson #1: The life of Judas Iscariot is an enormous tragedy. It shows what happens when one exposes himself to the truth day-after-day, but does not embrace it, use it, obey it! By application, we cannot go to church Sunday after Sunday, and even attend Bible classes during the week, thinking that our mere presence there will keep God pleased with us.
Nearly every day for three plus years Judas listened to the best Bible teacher who ever walked this planet. He heard the truth not only preached, but also saw it perfectly lived-out in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Yet, the more Judas heard, the more he possessed to reject, and the more he rejected the more his heart became hardened. His conscience became seared so that he no longer felt the critiquing ministry of the written Word and the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. His inner man gradually hardened to the point that it became a convenient habitation for the devil himself, leading to betrayal and finally suicide.
We must not let be lost on ourselves what happened to Judas. The corrective is diligently to put into practice what we learn from God’s Word. Do not permit your intake of the Bible to be merely an academic head-trip.
- If you learn that you may confess your sin: Keep confessing.
- If you learn that you should pray: Keep praying.
- If you learn that you are to witness to Christ: Keep witnessing.
- If you learn that you should not forsake the assembling of yourselves together: Keep assembling.
- If you learn that God gave you a spiritual gift for the common good: Use your gift to serve your fellow believers in love
As Christians, we must become vigorous doers of the Word, not mere hearers only, lest the hardening process overtakes us and we lose opportunity for eternal reward to the glory of God.
Lesson #2: For those who are servants in various leadership positions as pastors, teachers, evangelists, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and so on, there is encouragement from the tragic life of Judas—back door encouragement!
Every leader eventually experiences the disappointment and grief of someone close to him turning traitor. It may not be as dramatic as what Judas did to our Lord, but betrayal it is.
Judas violated Jesus, deceiving Him with the world’s greatest hypocritical kiss, resulting in Christ’s execution. However, in three days God turned the tables on Jesus’ enemies and raised Him from the dead. And the same God who raised the Lord Jesus out of seemingly utter, devastating treachery and defeat is still in the business of supporting and protecting us, even reversing our losses.
The devil thought he had won. The demons threw their biggest celebration party ever. The religious leaders danced home after the crucifixion and toasted their success. However, God raised Jesus from the dead!
There are other examples of the Father delivering His people from treachery and defeat. The Lord raised David from sure defeat to victory in the civil war with his treacherous son, Absalom. Why? Because David confessed his sin, repented, and his heart was still inclined to serve the Lord.
The Lord brought Jonah back from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea to minister to Nineveh. Why? Because in the belly of the great fish, Jonah repented! Although he still needed an attitude adjustment about the Assyrians, God worked through Jonah the greatest evangelistic crusade recorded in the Old Testament.
So, where are we? Though there may be a “Judas” in our church, or school, or fellowship group, God will never desert or abandon those who fear the Lord and take refuge in Him.
Therefore, let us take heart! “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). God will take care of the Judases of life; our business is to be faithful so long as He gives us breath and energy to serve.
Article from CTS Journal, volume 3, number 1 (Summer 1997), a publication of Chafer Theological Seminary, Orange, CA.